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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Big Match Preview - Walsall vs. Bristol Rovers

Walsall vs. Bristol Rovers
Saturday January 29, 15:00, Banks's Stadium

Two sides in desperate need of points clash in the Black Country on Saturday with League One's bottom side Walsall meeting a Bristol Rovers team who also find themselves in the relegation zone.

They're also two sides in the infancy of new managerial reigns, with Walsall recently promoting Dean Smith to manager until the end of the season and Rovers in just their fourth match under new boss Dave Penney.

It's been a mixed bag of results for the former Oldham and Doncaster boss so far with a win, loss, and draw to date.

After starting with a 4-0 thumping at Carlisle though, the Gas have earned a 0-0 draw with Hartlepool and last weekend secured a crucial 3-1 win in their West County derby against fellow strugglers Swindon Town.

That left Rovers just two points behind fifth-bottom Town as they seek to reverse the shocking run of results which saw them slip into the bottom four - and cost former boss Paul Trollope his job.

Central to their struggles has been a leaky defence, with no side conceding more on the road then their 28 goals. Aside from their loss at Carlisle, they've also gone down to defeat in five other away trips, at Peterborough, Swindon, Plymouth, Milton Keynes, and a crushing 6-2 loss at Sheffield Wednesday.

However, they've also picked up five draws and a couple of wins - at Dagenham and Huddersfield, so Penney will be confident they can at least extend their unbeaten run to three.

Key to their hopes of beating the drop is striker Will Hoskins. The former Watford man has been linked with a move away in the transfer window, and with 12 goals is one of the leading scorers in the division.

Dave Penney is looking to lead Bristol Rovers to safety in League One

For the hosts, a win this weekend is paramount if they are to stand even the slimmest of chances of staving off a return to the basement division they exited, along with Rovers, in 2007.

It's been a nightmare campaign for Walsall who, unsurprisingly, parted company with boss Chris Hutchings earlier this month. Dean Smith stepped in as caretaker and, after two draws from his first three games, he was appointed to the role for the remainder of the season.

However, last weekend's defeat at Exeter followed by Tuesday night's draw with Oldham has left the Saddlers bottom - seven points off their opponents on Saturday and nine from safety.

Their form at the Banks's has been woeful - losing eight in 12. Their record of 51 goals conceded is also the poorest in League One.

Wins on home soil have come against Carlisle, Exeter, and Plymouth, and Smith will know the name of Bristol Rovers must be added to that list if Walsall are to not be cut well adrift.

The stand-out performer for the Saddlers this term has been midfield Matt Richards, whose dead ball expertise allied with seven goals make him central to their chances of staying up.

The two sides only met as recently as January 11 - sharing a 2-2 draw at the Memorial Stadium - a game which saw Penney watch his new side for the first time.

Rovers have picked up since then and appear to be moving in the right direction. If they take confidence from last weekend's win over Swindon, then they can move out of the relegation zone by condemning Walsall to yet another defeat.

Nobes' Prediction: Walsall 1 Bristol Rovers 2

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